Was anyone else out there raised to make what we have go as far as we possibly can?
I was. First of all, I was the youngest child in the family, so although I didn’t always understand back then, it was the most natural thing in the world for me to spend my earlier years wearing (and playing with) mostly hand-me-downs.
Then there was also the fact that my parents were environmentalists, on the forefront of recycling, reducing, and reusing in any way that they could.
As I got older, a busy lifestyle, and interest in fashion, would sometimes add up to mean living a life that contained, as it does for many, a fair amount of excess, from an overflowing closet to using perhaps a few too many products designed to be used only one time (think paper towels, water bottles, or garbage bags, for example).
Well now, I’m the mom, trying to live on a budget as I work from home, watch after my two young kids, and try to craft a life for us that feels both reasonable and environmentally responsible in this modern world.
Lately, as I’ve tried to tackle it all, I’ve been thinking about all the ways I try to save money every day, so here are 15 of them.
15 The Poor Woman’s ‘Latte’
Although I have always, from the time I was a little girl, loved the smell of coffee (and now crack up at my own little ones loving the smell and idea of it already, too…), I was not a regular coffee drinker at all when I entered this thing called parenthood.
That worked out well, as I personally chose not to have it while pregnant, either.
I actually put it off for years… the coming (and quite cliched) mom obsession with coffee…
Then, a few months back, with my second baby not nursing quite so often anymore, I gave in to the temptation, and I’m back at it again.
While it is REALLY tempting to keep reloading my account on that chain café’s handy app, I try as much as I can to resist, and so, I have laughingly created what I call the poor man’s (or woman’s, I suppose) “latte.”
It is a mug of nonfat milk microwaved for a few minutes, with strong instant coffee stirred in…
14 The World Is My Gym
I know some people see signing up for a gym membership as, like, a necessary commitment to keep them motivated.
They like having that machine to use, that TV in front of them, maybe even that community of sorts (though I’ve noticed that most people don’t even talk to one another in there…).
Well here’s one way I save hundreds and hundreds of dollars every year: I don’t currently have, nor have I for many years, any sort of gym or exercise club membership.
I live in a town where every fitness craze attracts a bazillion followers, where personal trainers can make enough to afford large and lovely houses.
But I keep it real simple, and real mellow.
Instead of a treadmill, I have the open road (or sidewalk, or bike path) and my double jogging stroller — a one-time, if somewhat pricey investment that keeps me out and moving almost every day.
I do floor exercises at the park while my little ones play.
Fitness? All about it! Gyms? Not so much.
13 YouTube Is My Yoga Studio
After the birth of my first baby a few years ago, I began to understand, really and truly, for the first time why so many adults are attracted to yoga, or even feel like their bodies absolutely need it.
This and that pain or tightness or soreness started to plague me, especially after the hard work of labor and carrying around a baby much of the day.
The stress of “adulting” was, of course, a constant, as it can end up being for everyone.
I didn’t have childcare. I didn’t have cash to become a member at one of the many yoga studios in town.
But I had Internet!
So I started doing some very simple yoga sessions, following along with free YouTube videos.
I could fit them in when I had half an hour here or there, pause them as needed, and not worry more about money.
12 When Fun Is Free
In my world, there’s always some discussion going on both online and in real life about things like which music or swim classes your toddler is going to lately. Which trampoline or gym or exercise program is your tiny tot currently a part of?
You get the gist.
I’m making it work by working from home and keeping my little ones here with me, rather than shelling out obscene amounts of cash for daycare each month, so yeah, I don’t have any extra to be cutting a check to a dozen different classes and programs for them each month.
That’s why I never forget my beloved local libraries.
I keep track of all the story times and children’s events that they offer for free, regularly, each and every week.
I encourage other new moms I know to come on out and join me.
We sing, we read, we dance… We spend time interacting together and making new friends.
It achieves all the same stuff as expensive classes, and it’s all FREE.
11 Getting After Good Groceries
I feel like inevitably, every couple has at least one moment in life where they just have to sit down and have that conversation about how they can make everything work a bit better when it comes to finances.
For me, it’s necessarily sort of an ongoing conversation in my own mind. And one way my husband and I found that we could do even better, after looking at everything we had to spend money on in this modern life, was paying more attention to what went in our cart at the grocery store.
I’ve never been one to do coupons, or bargain hunt, but I do now try to be more careful about the simple choices I make.
If it’s in the frozen or pre-prepared category, it’s probably pricier than making it myself.
We now do things like boil our own rice on the stovetop rather than buying quick microwave packets. I make my own pizza and never buy frozen ones. When I’m craving my favorite chicken salad sandwich from the deli, I instead recreate it using canned meat and basil from my patio.
It’s all simple, but it all adds up.
10 Bringing My Own Darn Bottle
It had been years and years since I regularly drank bottled water, but I still see people all around me every day, even in a relatively environmentally aware town, carrying around plastic, one-time-use water bottles.
So I thought it was definitely worth mentioning that the way you drink water can have a big impact not only on the environment but also of course on your wallet.
I have a love affair of sorts with a couple fancy insulated water bottles I bought at the camping-goods store in town.
I opted for the sport top, in bright and feminine colors, and I am rarely anywhere, as a runner and a breastfeeding mother, without one right by my side.
The water I drink from them is fresh, tasty, and cold – but it’s not from a machine or service that I pay for… Oh, no.
We just use a water pitcher with changeable filters and keep it always in the fridge.
9 Cancelling Cable, And Limiting Subscriptions
I don’t know anyone in my own generation who still has cable TV, just as I don’t know anyone who still has a home phone, or land line. So there’s one obvious way we save money: We cancelled cable YEARS ago.
But almost everyone I’ve talked to about shows and movies lately does have a handful of subscriptions to all the various streaming services.
For pretty cheap, that same company that ships you anything you could ever want to buy on the Internet can also be your service for music and movies.
That website that used to offer older shows for free now offers, even, all the new stuff – for a small price.
Well I don’t want to pay all these various bills each month, small though they may be.
So we picked one service, Netflix, a while back, and stuck with it.
Maybe we’ll switch at some point, but I’ve decided for now that one’s enough.
Who has time to watch more than a bit of TV each evening anyway?
8 Work It
I looked at what people around me were doing. They’d get married, get more established, perhaps, in their chosen careers, and have a baby. They’d return to work 3 months later and pay a large fraction of at least one parent’s income in order to cover the costs of full-time daycare, be it at a center or by using a babysitter or nanny.
To me, it just didn’t make sense!
I was like wait, so I’m supposed to work 40 hours a week, and miss all the early years with my children, just so that they can have someone else spend every weekday with them? Nuh-uh. Not for me.
A different life plan clearly works for everyone, but the choice I made, largely to save a LOT of money, was to be the one to provide care for my own kids.
Is it easy working from home? Nope. But to me, it is SO worth it.
7 Sayonara, Salon!
One time toward the beginning of college, I went to a salon to have my hair cut. It was one of only a few times in my life that I visited such a place, having often kept my cuts simple enough that whichever chain haircutting place would do just fine.
But I had a specific look in mind, so I made the appointment and sat down in the chair before carefully explaining my vision to the “stylist.”
When she showed me the mirror after the wash and cut… It was not at all what I had asked for, because she had “felt” this way or that about it.
What??? And I paid how much for this?
From then on, I started doing something that I’m really glad I learned to bravely tackle on my own, especially now that I’m a mom on a tight budget: That’s right… I cut my own hair.
It’s not as hard as it sounds, and even if you goof up, it will always grow back!
I’ve even got the hubs doing the same for his simple style, too.
6 As Nature Intended
Look around you in your adult life: How many women do you know who do not color their hair?
Even those who I suspect might not end up having at least some professional highlights upon closer inspection.
I just don’t understand paying that much for something like that. And it needs upkeep so often!
When it’s done from a box, in my opinion, it ends up looking like, well, you changed the color of your hair to look like it came from a box.
When it comes from a salon, it looks, well, often much more nuanced, but still obviously… fake. I think for some people, that is probably even the appeal of it! Look how much I can afford to pay to have my hair done each month!
If it makes you feel confident and well, by all means, but one way I save a ton of money is to keep my natural color, letting it be lightened as it will by the sun.
5 Picnics Are More Romantic Anyway
I have never paid for a babysitter. So when I say “date night,” I pretty much just mean getting out of the house and doing something I find romantic and just, well, different than the usual routine, often with two cute little kids along for the ride!
Now is a GREAT time of year to take this particular approach, too.
Towns and cities right and left are offering things like free summer concerts in the park.
The last few weeks, we’ve packed up a cooler with nibbles and bevs and spread out a picnic blanket, looking at each other dreamily as we watch the two little sweethearts we created dance around on the grass at twilight… Sigh…
For me, sure beats spending hundreds for a baby sitter and an hour at a restaurant!
4 One Nifty Trash Trick
This one is pretty silly, but it is also so, if I do say so myself, genius that I just had to include it here today.
Do a lot of you have little wastebaskets in your bathrooms – somewhere to throw a tissue or tampon?
My environmentally obsessed dad actually purchased ones, for my childhood home, with removable plastic inserts that he would then clean / hose out in the yard every so often. This avoided them getting SUPER gross, as well as using needless plastic bags to line the cans.
I’ve noticed that almost everyone still seems to use trash bags in every can of the house, and I understand that this is a hard habit to break, practically speaking.
But I figured out a way to at least use bags that we already necessarily had anyway…
Anyone else buy those bulk packs of diapers at, say, Costco? The bags within the giant boxes of the packaging are the PERFECT size to use as liners for small bathroom wastebaskets!
Sure, it’s probably only saving me minor change, but it’s also not producing double the plastic trash than we would otherwise…
Oh, also, the large bags around the two-packs of bread at that same store work equally well.
Nifty trick, right? Everything counts!
3 Closet Shopper
You try to be good with money, to not buy things that you don’t REALLY need…
And it’s not like most adults are changing in size a couple times every year, as kids do while they grow.
But of course, it’s still sometimes tempting to feel like you just NEED new clothes!
Marketing in our inboxes and all our various social media feeds and beyond tells us so, for one.
I love clothes. Shopping? What fun!
But these days, trying to live much more carefully than I ever have before, I really try to stop and think before I go out and get a pair of the trendiest jeans in my current size.
I live in a very small home with quite limited closet space, but I’ve held onto some key items, such as shoes, handbags, and denim, that really do come around again if you just wait a few years.
The other day I was looking at the same pair of ’70s-inspired flare jeans for the 10th time online, and I had an epiphany!
It was time to go shopping in my own closet.
Multiple pairs of jeans in an almost identical style had been sitting in the back, neglected.
It’s sort of like using closet rediscovery as a shopping alternative.
2 The Art Of The "Thank You" Card
Bear with me here, as I’m sure some out there might be saying that I sound like their grandmothers as they read this.
But there really is something to be said for the lost art of the thank you card. Seriously!
Whether or not you care about being polite and following old-school customs and niceties, there is something in it for you, most likely!
I was amazed at how people I’d only met briefly, or in some cases never even met — friends of family and extended family, for example — generously sent books, clothes, toys, and blankets upon hearing that we, the youngest generation of the clan, were reproducing.
For each baby gift that was kindly sent, however small, I sent a heartfelt thank you, in the actual, honest-to-goodness, old-school mail.
People LOVE it. And they continue to send small gifts for the little ones for holidays, or sometimes just because!
How nice to have the help, and also just the feeling of support.
And I feel like the help keeps coming because people feel like it was actually recognized and appreciated the last time.
1 Remaining Neutral
When I was very pregnant with my first, I, perhaps crazily but certainly undeniably, started to have a strong inkling that I would want to have another little one before too long, as well.
That inkling grew and couldn’t be ignored, and so as I bought the necessary basics for my first baby as the months passed, such as onesies and PJs, I started buying at least some items in gender-neutral prints, styles, and colors.
It’s not that the basics are always that expensive, necessarily, but they all add up!
And if you know, or think strongly, that you might be able to reuse some of the stuff pretty soon, you might as well avoid purchasing an ENTIRE new wardrobe all over again, right?
Sure, a handsome polo or lovely dress here or there will be great fun, but for those basic T-shirts and such, a simple white might be just the thing to use and then pass on down to little bro OR sis!
Reference: This one mom’s experience.